• Press Release

Pakistan: Millions Suffer in Suffer in Human Rights Free Zone in Northwest Pakistan

March 27, 2011

Amnesty International Says Millions Suffer in "Human Rights Free Zone" in Northwest Pakistan

Human rights organization urges President Obama to pressure Pakistan to end abuses in area; calls for accountability in drone attacks

Millions of Pakistanis in the northwest tribal areas live in a human rights free zone where they have no legal protection by the government and are subject to abuses by the Taleban, Amnesty International said in a major report released today.

"Many areas of north-western Pakistan now resemble the Taleban-ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s," said Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA Executive Director. "The world should be alarmed by the way living conditions have deteriorated under the increasingly brutal control of the Pakistani Taleban and its allied insurgent groups; instead, the suffering of the people of this area has been largely ignored, sacrificed in the name of geopolitical interests."

The 130-page report, ‘As if Hell Fell on Me’: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan, is based on nearly 300 interviews with residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and adjacent areas of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).

Amnesty International’s review of available information also suggests that at least 1,300 civilians were killed in the fighting in northwest Pakistan in 2009, from a total of more than 8,500 casualties (including combatants).

The report documents the systematic abuses carried out by the Taleban as they established their rule by killing those who challenge their authority, such as tribal elders and government officials. Amnesty International was told of Taleban insurgents blocking roads to prevent civilians from escaping as villages fell under heavy bombardment by government forces. The insurgents also increased the likelihood of civilian casualties by dispersing themselves among civilians and in and around schools.

Successive Pakistani governments have treated the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan with disdain, ignoring the rights of the area’s residents, particular in FATA. Over the past decade, Pakistan’s government has veered from appeasing the Pakistani Taleban through a series of failed "peace deals" to launching heavy-handed military operations that include indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.

The United States’ use of drones to target insurgents in northwest Pakistan has generated considerable resentment inside Pakistan. Amnesty International has called on the U.S. government to clarify its chain of command and rules of engagement for the use of drones and ensure proper accountability for civilian casualties.

"President Obama should exert pressure on the Pakistani government to take steps to address abuses by the Pakistani security forces and local militias called "lashkars" – who are little more than bandits," said T. Kumar, Amnesty International USA director of international advocacy. "As the main military supplier and trainer of the Pakistani security forces, the U.S. government cannot turn a blind eye to their abuses. President Obama should also speak out about the abuses committed by the Pakistani Taleban and find ways to exert pressure through those entities who support or who otherwise have influence on them."

The report also demonstrates the role of China and its influence on the Pakistani government. China has been Pakistan’s largest supplier of arms and military equipment.

FATA residents are governed by the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901. The FCR provides a government-appointed Political Agent ultimate judicial and executive authority, including the ability to carry out communal punishment, including formal detention, by holding all members of a tribe potentially responsible for alleged infractions committed by any tribe member.

The Constitution of Pakistan of 1973 explicitly excludes FATA from the legal, judicial and parliamentary system of Pakistan, including barring residents from voting in parliamentary elections and bringing appeals to a higher court outside the territory. Pakistan has recently promised to reform the FCR but this has not yet happened.

Amnesty International urges both the Pakistani government and the Taleban to comply with international humanitarian law by taking all measures to prevent loss of civilian life and buildings including hospitals and schools and allowing unfettered NGO access to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to the injured and displaced.

"Both the Pakistani and U.S. governments should take note that addressing human rights abuses is not just the right thing to do from a human rights perspective," said Cox. "It’s also the smart thing to do from a security perspective. The insurgent abuses described in this Amnesty International report have occurred as part of their efforts to carve out a safe area to recruit, organize, and train fighters—not only to launch military attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan but also armed attacks on far-off international targets."

"All nations have two interrelated obligations: they must protect civilians from abuses by non-state actors, and they must respect human rights in the process of confronting non-state actors. Getting this balance right is a challenge that governments can no longer afford to ignore," said Cox.

This report is supplemented by an innovative new website (www.eyesonpakistan.org) that, through interactive maps, offers virtual access to this isolated region. The information presented is based on a geo-coded database of more than 2,300 publicly reported incidents occurring between 2005 and 2009, including suicide attacks, U.S. drone strikes and insurgent attacks against civilians. The Eyes on Pakistan website is unique, as it allows users to manipulate the data and identify temporal and spatial trends of insurgency and military activity, and contextualizes the hundreds of individual stories that Amnesty International has collected.